Murdoch scandal: is Cameron next?

Submitted by Matthew on 2 May, 2012 - 10:12

There is now a serious possibility that the evidence uncovered in the Leveson Inquiry might bring down David Cameron.

The Tory leader had set up Leveson to isolate himself from the phone-hacking scandal and to manage any damage from his relationship with special adviser and ex-News International editor, Andy Coulson. This also meant Cameron distancing himself from Murdoch and his empire after years of working to get as close to him as possible.

When Murdoch gave evidence to the Inquiry last week he made it clear that the Tories’ attempt to slip quietly out of bed with News International would come at a price.

He revealed that the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt had been working to help the media mogul gain full control of BSkyB when his job was to scrutinise whether the take-over bid broke competition rules.

Hunt only got his cabinet post because his predecessor, Vince Cable, was considered to be biased against Murdoch and deemed therefore lacked independence. Such was the controversy surrounding the proposed takeover that the media regulator Ofcom advised Hunt to pass the issue over to the Competitions Commission. He insisted on handling it himself and on his ability to be independent.

It turns out that, while declaring his honesty, he was (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) stealing our spoons.

Murdoch drew attention to nearly 200 pages of emails and texts between News International and the Hunt’s office which demonstrated how much they were trying to facilitate the multi-billion pound deal. One key email showed that Hunt’s decision not to refer the merger to the Competitions Commission was aimed at removing obstacles for NI.

Later a group of media companies who had opposed the deal described how they were blocked from getting any access to Hunt to put their case.

So Cable being biased against Murdoch was a problem, but favouring him and his empire was, it would seem, absolutely fine.

Hunt was immediately under pressure to resign. But, as Dennis Skinner pointed out in Parliament, he did what all posh boys do when they are in trouble, sack the servants — in this case Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith.

It’s inconceivable that this will be enough to save Hunt. The media debate after Smith’s departure was all about where and how soon Hunt is made to explain himself. Cameron wanted it done soon by moving forward his appearance before the Inquiry; this attempt at queue jumping was firmly rejected by Leveson.

Cameron is currently resisting an investigation into whether Hunt broke the Ministerial Code. He know that will probably end in his Culture Minister being removed.

But waiting for Hunt to take his turn at the Leveson Enquiry means many more weeks of pressure and embarrassment and is no more likely to save Hunt or shut down the growing scandal.

The crisis is, however, getting closer and closer to Cameron and his government.

On the Andrew Marr Show on 29 April Cameron admitted to having a conversation about the takeover with NI Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, at a Christmas party in 2010 (when the BSkyB deal was being considered).

He claims that nothing “inappropriate” was said and responds with shock to suggestions that there was some “grand deal” to reward Murdoch for his support for the Tories.

But it is the shock expressed by Captain Renault in Casablanca when he discovers that gambling is going on in Humphrey Bogart’s cafe (before being handed his winnings).

In my day job I often defend workers who face allegations of misconduct. Increasingly they are suspended on full pay on grounds that their presence at the workplace might interfere with the investigation.

I usually argue that suspension is excessive and unnecessary. Why not instruct them not to discuss the allegations and consider suspension only if there is evidence that they have broken the agreement? Sometimes this argument works.

Here we have the leader of a government charged with investigating the appropriateness of a media takeover worth over ÂŁ8 billion, attending a lavish social event at the home of the boss of the predator company and admitting to having discussed the deal.

Since we don’t have a tape of the conversations Cameron asks us to trust him and believe that it was all above board and nothing inappropriate was said. No worker would last five minutes with a defence like this. The very fact of being at the same event and admitting to the discussion would see them found guilty and sent hom. Yet again more proof that we are absolutely not all in this together.

The worst scenario for Cameron and the Coalition is that the Tory leader is found to have acted improperly and no differently in all fundamentals to Hunt or Smith. In that case it would be difficult for him to remain in office. He appears before Leveson in the summer and, although the Inquiry remit does not cover the behaviour of government ministers, his evidence will be poured over for guilt of corruption in dealing with Murdoch as any of his minions.

The immediate damage to the government is, though, unavoidable and maybe terminal. They are now all associated with trying to oil the wheels of a voracious and monopolistic takeover in return for the political support of the most powerful media company in Britain. By extension they are linked to the phone-hacking scandal and all the other excesses and arrogance of News International.

All this at a time when the credibility of their flagship austerity programme is crumbling, economic data has confirmed that Britain is in a double-dip recession and Labour have opened up a lead of close to 10 points without putting up any sort of fight.

Rupert Murdoch has behaved like a betrayed marriage partner ripping up the best suits in the wardrobe, pouring red paint all over the Ferrari and most damaging of all, letting the world know what a treacherous and untrustworthy piece of work his old lover is.

Cameron is hurting and the worst pain is probably yet to come. Good.

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